'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Like Father, Like Daughter

I found the plans for the miniature golf course my great-grandfather built in the garden. I was able to locate some of the greens. It was a beautiful course, but it didn't last long because people were afraid of it. The balls would disappear down the holes and they'd turn up in some very strange places. One man always went home after a game having failed to retrieve any of the balls he'd played with. When he'd arrive home he'd find the balls posing as eggs in his hen house.

My cousin Darren used to work for a small company that imported carpets. He got on well with his boss, Victor, even though almost all of their conversations concerned work. On the rare occasions when they strayed into non-work-related subjects, they'd talk about sport, and the only thing Victor ever said about sport was 'They're all a bunch of wasters'. Darren knew nothing of his boss's personal situation until one Thursday afternoon when Victor called him into his office and said, "I have a favour to ask. I'd never be asking you to do this if it wasn't of immense importance. Firstly, there are a few things you need to know about me. I've been divorced for eight years. Till my dying day I'll regret my mistake, and on every day until my death I'll have to live with the consequences of what I did. I left my wife for a woman who left me for another man just two weeks after I walked out on my family. I abandoned my family and found myself in oblivion. I had this delusion of living happily ever after with Hilda, the woman I was having an affair with. Only when my delusion was shattered did I see all that I'd lost. I have a daughter called Nadine. She was fourteen when I left and she hasn't spoken to me since. Nothing in this world could cause me greater pain than being rejected by the person I love most, and I'd be surprised if anything as painful is waiting for me in the afterlife, though I can't deny I deserve it. This feels like an eternal hell because a parent's love never fades. It didn't take long for Hilda to remove all of her belongings from my heart. Guilt makes things worse. I used to be close to my daughter. I often think of the hurt I must have caused her to make her refuse to have anything to do with me for eight years. My only hope is that some day she'll forgive me, but until then I'll have to live with the pain and the regret and the guilt and the worry. I can't stop worrying about her. I need to know that she's okay. People tell me that she's okay, but I keep thinking that they're just saying that so I won't worry or that she's hiding how she's really feeling. This is why I need your help. A friend of mine gave me this."

Victor showed Darren a notice taken from a notice board. It stated that volunteers were needed to help convert the offices of a former gardening magazine into a gallery of cat art. Volunteers were requested to go to the offices at seven o' clock that evening.

"Nadine is organising this," Victor said. "I'd be eternally grateful to you if you went along this evening and observed my daughter. I'm asking you because I think you'd have the insight to be able to tell if she's really happy."

"If she's the sort of person who converts old offices into galleries devoted to art about cats then surely you don't have anything to worry about."

"A parent always has something to worry about, even a sub-standard parent like me. It's easy to look at the surface and say, 'She's doing exemplary work in the promotion of cat art and she's not on drugs -- she's thriving in life'. But what do you see when you look beneath the surface? Is she relentlessly taking on projects to fill a void in her life? Perhaps it would be better if she was on drugs and had no interest in cat art. There are rehabilitation programmes for drug addiction, but given the state of mental health services in this country, what are the chances of getting professional help to stop someone building a gallery of cat art? I think you'd be able to see beneath the surface. I wouldn't ask if this wasn't immensely important to me."

Darren didn't see how he could refuse such a request, so instead of an evening in the pub with his friends, he spent hours clearing out old offices with strangers. He tried to spend as much time as possible with Nadine. He had a long chat with her as he helped her empty filing cabinets, and he couldn't detect any signs of a void beneath the surface. He looked forward to informing her father that all was well, but another problem was emerging. Darren liked Nadine, and he wanted to help her work on the gallery again. He knew he could never build a friendship based on a lie. He had to tell her why he had volunteered to help, and if she said she never wanted to see him again, at least that would be better than trying to sustain a lie.

As he was gathering the courage to say 'There's something I have to tell you', she said, "There's something I have to tell you. I'm not really estranged from my father and he never left my mother. I'm still living at home with my parents. I was telling Dad that I needed help with the gallery and he said he'd trick you into volunteering. When he told me how he was going to do it I was completely against the idea, but I couldn't stop him. He loves his tricks. He loves acting as well. As soon as he got this idea into his head, he couldn't let go of it."

"I can't believe he'd tell a lie like that. I really thought he was living in torment. I felt sorry for him. If he'd just asked me to volunteer I'd have done it."

"I know. That's what I said to him. This is typical of his sense of humour. He's always doing things like this. But on the plus side, it makes you perfectly entitled to play a trick on him, and I can help you do it. We can respond in kind. Just give me a day or two and I'll come up with something."

On the following morning, Darren didn't think it was such a good idea to be playing a practical joke on his boss, no matter how much the man deserved it. He was going to phone Nadine to tell her to drop any plans she was working on, but she phoned him when he was on his way to work and she told him that she'd already formed a plan and had put it into action. "I left the house early this morning," she said. "I went out without making a sound and then I made as much noise as I could on the way back in so Dad would think I'd been out all night and I was just arriving back. Over breakfast he asked me where I'd been and I told him I spent the night with you."

"You what!"

"You don't need to worry. I told him you were a very gentle lover."

"I don't need to what? He's my boss and he thinks I slept with his daughter. Worrying is exactly the thing I need to be doing. That and resigning."

"It's just a joke. I'll tell him the truth this evening and he'll have a great laugh. I have this evening all worked out. I'll be very tearful when he gets home from work. I know exactly how to make him suffer even more."

"I can't spend the whole day with him when he probably wants to strangle me."

"Wanting to strangle you and actually strangling you are two very different things. Please, just play along with this for the rest of the day. I promise he'll think it's hilarious. Please."

Darren could never say no to a woman who said 'please' in italics. When he arrived at work he did his best to avoid making eye contact with his boss, but he could feel the interrogation lights of Victor's glare.

"When I asked you to get beneath the surface of my daughter," Victor said, "this wasn't what I had in mind. I want to have a word with you about what you've done. We'll talk this evening before you go home. Until then, I don't have anything else to say to you."

It was a difficult day for Darren. He would have cracked and told Victor the truth if he hadn't kept reminding himself of Nadine's insistence that her father would find it funny. Replaying the word 'please' helped as well.

When Darren finished work in the evening, Victor said, "Come with me."

They went for a drive in Victor's car. Victor didn't say a word as he drove out of the city. He waited until they were on a narrow country road before finally breaking the silence. "One thing I told you was true," he said. "I love my daughter more than anyone else on the planet. I'd do anything to protect her. Of course, a parent can't do everything to protect their kids. She's an adult now, and I can't dictate how she lives her life. For a while I thought I could do that when she was a child, but I was deluding myself. I can't stop her from being hurt, but I can give you a taste of what would happen if you hurt her."

Victor stopped outside a building that would have had bullet wounds and tattoos if it were human. They went inside, and all of the occupants of this pub looked suspiciously at the newcomers. Darren noticed that they all had bullet wounds and tattoos. He followed his boss to the bar. Victor ordered two beers, and as the drinks were being poured, Darren could hear the sound of a gun being loaded behind him. He replayed the word 'please' in his head, and this time it had no effect. The time had come to tell the truth, but he thought he'd never get a chance to say anything when someone jumped up from behind the bar and said 'boo'. For a second or two he feared for his life, but then his brain had a chance to examine these two statements: (a) Someone jumped up from behind the bar and shot him. (b) Someone jumped up from behind the bar and said 'boo'. The first statement was the one his brain had initially taken to be true, but it transpired that the second one showed a much greater correspondence to actual events, and the person who said 'boo' was the same person who'd been saying 'please' in his mind all day.

Everyone in the pub was laughing at him. They were all in on the joke. The bar man was Victor's brother. Darren was introduced to the man when Victor was finally able to stop laughing a few hours later. It took a long time for Darren to see the funny side, but an evening in the pub with his new friends helped bring out the beginnings of a laugh. He could see the benefits of making friends with his boss after spending the day convinced he'd made an enemy. Nadine kept apologising for her role in the joke, and she promised to make it up to him. Darren thought he needed to tread very carefully in case he really did make an enemy of his boss.

The moose's head over the fireplace doesn't pay much attention to the goldfish in the bowl on the table, but they keep staring at him. The wife's aunt owns the fish. We're looking after them while she's visiting a friend who needs help wallpapering all the rooms in her house. She's using plain white paper, and her state-of-the-nation novel will be written on this. The wife's aunt has beautiful handwriting. She could be there for weeks if she has to write all thirty-seven chapters.